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Life, but not as we know it

Thanks to the new science of synthetic biology, it will soon be possible to create living cells in a laboratory. This could bring big benefits—from medicine to combating global warming—but potential dangers too. I went to Greenland to find out more

By Philip Ball   August 2007

I have just spent a week 120 miles above the Arctic circle listening to a hand-picked group of 17 scientists discuss how to make synthetic life forms. Like it or not, this is going to happen, possibly in the next few years. Some will find that shocking, even blasphemous. To others it will seem a tremendous opportunity, scientifically and economically. Some hope it will help to solve urgent global problems. In any event, there is clearly some explaining to be done.

We are not the first to imagine making life anew to our own design. In Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis…

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